By-the-numbers account of a lowlife mobster and his kin, whose claims, the author allows, “stretch the boundaries of credibility.”
Harmon opens with a telling admission: “This story is so remarkable—and my participation in it so unlikely—that it still feels somewhat surreal to me.” Hitherto the co-author of a celebrity memoir (Elvis and Me, with Priscilla Presley) and books of advice for the lovelorn, the author brings no particular reportorial skills to the tale of Gregory Scarpa Jr., a resident of a maximum-security federal prison by virtue of a long and nasty list of crimes. That acorn, by Harmon’s account, fell close to the oak. Scarpa Sr. was dubbed the “Grim Reaper” for his penchant for killing, and Dad—an FBI informant on the side—thought nothing of ratting out his kid in order to save his own hide. Thus far, no surprises. For all the gravitas of Don Corleone and family loyalty of Tony Soprano, mobsters are not known for their ethical sensibilities or contributions to society. The humdrum story gets a little more interesting at a couple of points. There’s the story of an FBI agent accused of committing four murders at the Mafia’s behest, and one involving Scarpa Jr.’s alleged relationship with a Muslim terrorist inside prison, through which, Harmon ventures, Scarpa was able to glean critical information several years before the 9/11 attacks and pass it on to the authorities. The feds ignored his warnings, however. Harmon writes, in soap-operatic tones, “In the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, Gregory was nearly consumed by rage and resentment. Why, he wondered, had the FBI so completely ignored his warnings?” Why, indeed? We’ll never know, but the author fails to provide compelling corroboration for the jailbird’s claims.
Harmon’s no Breslin. Merely serviceable, this slim tale would have benefited from more skepticism and evidence.